I think I had what they call a breakthrough and it’s all thanks to EMDR.
Since my breakdown two weeks ago… things have been eerily good. A few days after the PTSD flashback that sent me into the waves of grief that I had been avoiding, I felt lighter– calmer even. I’ve felt like more myself than I’ve felt in a while, as if my perspective went through a literal shift. It feels weird to feel so okay, so good that I was actually concerned that I’d have nothing to talk about in my therapy session.
I’m a little suspicious of it. But maybe that’s normal.
The EMDR Therapy Appointment
It’s raining when I arrive at my therapist’s office on Michigan Avenue. Something about the rain or the day calms me to the point of feeling as if I’ve walked into a cloud. Even so, I’m excited to see Elaine to tell her how much better I feel than the last time she saw me.
“You seem different today,” she says when I get to her office and we finish our small talk.
A smile flickers on the edge of my lips.
“I feel different,” I agree, pausing to form what I want to say. “I don’t know. It feels weird? As if I needed to have that flashback a few weeks ago in order to kind of speed up the process? Now I feel like I can take a step back, and see the whole picture.”
“That’s good. That’s what EMDR is supposed to do– it speeds up the process. It helps you reroute your brain.”
“Yeah– but maybe I’m just having a good week.” I look down at my cuticles, and start digging my nails into them.
“Two weeks.” I nod.
I fidget in my seat, leaning forward and back, not sure what else to say. I’ve done a lot of work since I last saw her. Something about the breakdown made me go into overdrive on self-care and overcompensating, as if I was terrified the experience would make all my past progress void. I joined a kickboxing gym, started meditating, embarked on a Sober September, limited my social time to focus more on the things I know I’ve been avoiding. It’s probably that – it’s probably nothing more. I’ve just had a good week, or two.
“I feel good in a normal sort of way,” I finally said. “I feel a shift for lack of better words.”
She nods and writes something down. “That’s wonderful,” she smiles. “I want to do some EMDR to see how you react. Are you okay with that?”
“Of course,” I say, straightening up and preparing to disappoint us both.
The EMDR Session
I take the two baubles from the cushion on the couch, one for my left hand and one for my right. She grabs the controls that allow her to turn the vibrations of them on, off or increase their intensity. She tells me to close my eyes and focus on the memory and situation that flew me into an upheaval just a few weeks before. As I close my eyes, she turns on the vibrations, sending pulses back and forth between my left and right hand.
I focus on the image of his face, and I feel nothing. I focus on the moments that pressed me to the edge– I feel bland acknowledgment of their existence. Another image from the past, from our past, jumps into my brain, and I look at it. I think of how nice it was to have those times. Another image of the time before it all fell to pieces, and I think how crazy and sad that all was.
But that was it.
When she pauses the vibrations, I open my eyes and shrug.
“Not much. I just see it, but I don’t feel much. I don’t feel the overwhelming sense of loss and frustration that was so present two weeks ago.”
She nods her head again and writes a few more things down. “Good, good,” she mutters to herself as her head bobs. “Any of the feelings that came up last time?”
“Very good.” She writes something else down and then grasps the clipboard to her chest. “Let’s do it again just to check, okay?”
I nod, and lean back to try again.
Feel the vibrations.
I don’t feel anything except the sort of sweet sadness you feel when looking at old memories or photo books. It feels far away. The images are hard to reach, and the memories attached to the images seem too exhausting to try to remember.
“It’s hard to even focus on them,” I tell her. “And when I do, my mind just kind of takes a look and says– yeah. That happened. It’s okay, it happened, but it’s not me. It’s not now. ”
“You don’t feel like you’re there? Like you’re in it,” she asks.
“No. I feel like I’m here and I’m looking back. It’s fuzzy and hard to see.”
A smile pops on her face, and she places her pen down.
“Chloé, I think we can move on from this.”
Move on from this. From this…MOVE on from this.
MOVE ON from this.
On? Moved On?
Just like that?
I try to process what she said. My immediate reaction wasn’t to jump up for joy. It wasn’t to clap my hands and scream “FINALLY I’VE MOVED ON, MOTHER FUCKERS!” Instead, I just felt doubt. And fear. And I didn’t really believe her. I kind of believed I fooled her, actually. A part of me was excited, and this other part of me, a cynical troll, started to tell me that it can’t be. I can’t trust myself with… myself.
Trust and Trauma and EMDR
When I told her this, she paused to ask me if I thought the lack of trust in myself was a result of the trauma. Did the traumatic experience I went through make me not trust myself?
If I’m being honest, it only made trusting myself harder.
Truth is, I’ve always had a tough time trusting myself.
I had a hard time trusting and believing in myself when I was a kid– never believing I’d achieve anything even as young as 11 years old.
Then I had a hard time trusting myself as a teenager, unsure of where I fit in and unsure of who I was.
Again, I had a hard time trusting myself in college, believing that I had made all the wrong moves that had led me to exactly the wrong life that I’d be stuck with forever.
I had a hard time trusting myself when I went through some of the deepest and darkest moments of depression that made me doubt every decision I had ever made.
And I had a really hard time trusting myself after I let myself fall in love with an abusive man who ended up getting hospitalized for terrifying paranoid delusions.
The Common Denominator and Fear
As I mentioned in “Sex & Secrets”, I’m not naive. I know that I am the common denominator. There’s something I’m doing or not doing that further exacerbates my inability to trust myself. Getting the “you’re out of this part of your PTSD free card” is kind of terrifying because that part of myself– the part that makes decisions that a Chloé who trusts herself wouldn’t– that part exists! It’s still there! I’m not sure how to tame it! It’s GOING TO HAPPEN AGAIN.
You’re getting carried away. Calm the fuck down.
**clearing of throat** Wise mind dusts off her boots and takes control.
Wise Mind Boss Babe (WMBB): The thing is, Chloé, you have the tools already. That’s the whole goddamn point. Do you really think that your therapist would have said “I think we can move on from this” if she was going to throw you into a river of things you can’t swim with? No. She’s not going to let you down, but more importantly– YOU are not going to let yourself down.
Me: But HOW? HOW DO YOU JUST START TRUSTING YOURSELF AFTER NOT TRUSTING YOURSELF FOR 27 BLEEPING YEARS?
WMBB: Stop. Stop thinking about how. Start thinking about… well. How, I guess. I lied. Sorry. That and when. The how is what you already do, what you already know how to do. What you should be thinking about? Right now. What decision can you make right this damn second to get you closer to your happy and whole self?
What can you do in every second that you’re faced with a decision? It’s those small steps and small actions– like ignoring a thought or seeing a shitty thought and thinking– fuck that! You’re already doing it– just keep doing it. The when is important and the when is all the time, in the moments that don’t seem like they matter.
Me: Uh. Sure. That makes sense. I’m still terrified though. That we’re wrong. Or that it’s going to get worse. Or that it’s going to happen again.
WMBB: That’s okay. You can be terrified. But it’s kind of a waste of energy. Instead you could just start making decisions that are good for yourself. Tell yourself you trust yourself and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll actually start to.
My wise mind is a boss babe. She knows how to trust herself, how to not hurt herself with bad decisions. She knows how to chill out.
I think I’m getting better at listening to her.
Give it Two Weeks
About two weeks ago one of my best friends and I were hanging out. We had both been through the wringer emotionally for different reasons, but commiserating over cheese, grapes, bike rides and La Croix on Lake Michigan made the burden of our loads a little easier to carry.
Most of our stories and thoughts ended with us throwing our hands in the air and saying “I don’t know. I just don’t friggin’ know.” We’d shake our heads and laugh at the ridiculousness and annoyance of simply not knowing.
Yesterday, after about two weeks, she and I hung out again. And this time it was different.
She came over, and I was excited to tell her about this newness– that I had had the shift! That I had graduated from this part of Trauma Therapy! And what made it better is she answered with, “Me too!”
“What have you been doing,” I asked after mentioning my new boxing class, meditation, writing, and reframing my thoughts.
“Nothing really,” she shrugged.
“It’s gotta be something. What have you been doing?”
“Well…” she paused and thought about it for a moment. “I guess I’ve been reading over my affirmations each day. And I’ve been writing down some new ones on days too. And sometimes I’ll do this thing where I’ll write a nice note to myself from myself, and I’ll pull it out of my pocket throughout the day to remind myself. I sign it with love. I buy myself flowers sometimes too.”
That’s not nothing.
We’re both working on it in different ways.
And you know what?
If you’re going through a bad time, and want to give up, just give it two more weeks. Your changes may look different from mine, and they may look different from my friends. But give it two weeks. It’s not the answer to everything, but it is something. We all know that things will eventually get bad, but then they’ll get better again. But remember– what a difference two weeks can make.